published Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

David Cook: So help us God

For years, our city has been making headlines near and far. Best outdoor city. VW. The Gig and 21st century tech-entrepreneurship. Downtown. Known across the land for this. Or that.

But nooooo one brags about local politics, which lags behind the rest of our superlatives like the last kid at recess. Progressive? Exciting? Intelligent? Like a flat tire.

Yet by the looks of things Monday morning, politics is catching up.

Under clearing skies, Andy Berke and nine city council members were sworn in before a very crowded and cheering house at the Tivoli Theatre.

I counted at least two standing ovations. One lasted nearly 30 seconds. Had there been an open bar or buffet, people would have stayed all afternoon. We got there early, and already people were being ushered upstairs to the balcony.

Black people and white people sat together; students, heads of companies, nonprofit leaders, activists, plainclothes cops, firefighters, grandmothers.

Chattanooga 2.0.

"This is the way it should be,'' one woman said as she walked through the Tivoli doors. "The diversity.''

Each elected official brought family and friends on stage for the big moment. District 3 Councilman Ken Smith had his family, the littlest Smith winning over the crowd with his pacifier and little brown blankie.

Larry Grohn of District 4 invited Mark West, Chattanooga Tea Party head, to join him on stage.

Chris Anderson's partner joined him on stage. Carried the Bible that Anderson, openly gay, would be sworn in on.

Chattanooga 3.0.

"The torch is passed to a new generation,'' former mayor Ron Littlefield said, paraphrasing JFK.

It's not like the morning was Vegas entertainment or something. Half of it was the raise-your-right-hand ceremony.

Yet people still came out of the woodwork. Sure, Berke's people called supporters and reminded them to come. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Five bucks said they would have come anyway.

People are ready for City Hall to behave like a big-thinking, solution-bound, no trickery or back-door hustlin' institution that complements the city around it.

The word I overheard most Monday?


Second word?




Put those in a pot and boil them -- excited, hopeful, intelligent -- and you have Lots of Big Change.

So don't blow it.

"We've heard more from this administration in the last eight weeks than the previous one in eight years,'' said Sgt. Craig Joel of the Chattanooga Police Deptartment.

See? You've got to remember to communicate. Be honest. Transparent. Open as a hospital gown.

All these people out there supporting and encouraging you? They're stirred up now. Have been for years (call it the Littlefield blowback) and are ready to bring you their own Good Idea.

You've been setting the table for this to happen; the worst thing now would be to shut the door.

"You are city government,'' Berke told the crowd.

Those may be the four most important words so far. Either incredibly prophetic. Or tragically untrue.

Put it this way: In four or eight years, whenever Berke's time comes to an end, what will it take for the ovations to last just as long then? The deep appreciation. The thank-yous.

What will it take for Berke to be more popular on his last day than his first?

"So help me God,'' Berke -- and every other elected official -- swore Monday morning.

We've got to help them, too.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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dfreezy said...

In the name of transparency, Sgt. Craig Joel of the CPD is also slimebag Alex Teach of the Chattanooga Pulse

April 16, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Is it time to examine oaths sworn on Bibles? Why would not a sworn oath without a Bible be just as binding on an honorable person?

April 16, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.
davidcook said...

Thoughts on Berke? The new council? How they can do well and how they could muck it up?

April 16, 2013 at 3:08 p.m.
nucanuck said...


Berke should give Chattanooga a leg up on most American cities. Rarely do the brightest among us want to be Mayor, even if it is just a stepping stone to greater things. Intelligence and ambition don't guarantee success, but I like the odds. We won't know for a while whether or not Berke has vision, however he has shown that he is willing to listen and often that is enough for a wise man to do well.

If Berke is to have a future in politics he will have to find ways to work with the new Council and that is often like herding cats.

He has the tools and I wish him well.

April 16, 2013 at 3:40 p.m.
shen said...

Thoughts on Berke? The new council? How they can do well and how they could muck it up?

As of 2010 census Chattanooga has a population of almost 168 thousand citizens. If 200 of those citizens show up with the same complaint, don't take what they say at face value and send in the infantry. Ask where's the remaining 167,800 citizens and what they might have to say on the issue. People with a dark agenda often operate in groups because they know working in groups make what they say more convincing.

Example: In the land where blue, lavender, red, green and orange people co-exist, when the lavender and orange people decide to form and team and show up in droves to complain about the green people, investigate and ask why the orange and blue people aren't complaining about the green people too. Then include the green people to determine the truth.

April 16, 2013 at 4:29 p.m.
davidcook said...

How do I find these green people?

April 16, 2013 at 5:34 p.m.
shen said...

It's not as if they're in hiding, Mr. Cook. You likely pass them most everyday without much of a thought. They are your poor, your homeless, and even some minority Chattanoogans fellow Chattanoogans once openly and hostilely expressed the desire to have them all rounded up and dumped across statelines.

April 16, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Risk with intelligent people is they think they're fit to run others' lives for us. Choose our light bulbs and flush tanks. If Mr Burke can stay clear of this, remembering how libertarian the Lord Messiah is, he may do well. (And any of Mr Satterfield's agenda that he wants to enact he'd do well with.)

April 18, 2013 at 12:31 p.m.
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